Since February this year, when the Dutch and Swedish postcode lotteries announced that Peace Parks Foundation was the key beneficiary of a €15.4million grant to combat wildlife crime and rhino poaching, the team behind the Rhino Protection Programme has made notable progress with the introduction of numerous measures to combat wildlife crime and save the endangered rhinoceros from criminal exploitation.
The lottery established the Dream Fund to enable courageous, groundbreaking new projects and the grant enables the rollout of a number of complementary interventions over the next five years as part of the multi-faceted Rhino Protection Programme. The aim of the programme is to effectively curb rhino poaching and save the southern African rhino species from extinction. In addition to this, Peace Parks Foundation received €1 million from the Swedish Postcode Lottery to combat rhino poaching.
Three rhino per day are now being slaughtered by poachers for their horns. The horns are trafficked mainly to Southeast Asia where it is popularly perceived by illegal consumers as a health-promoting agent, a cure for cancer and a status symbol.
If poaching continues at its current rate, rhino as a species will be extinct in the wild within 10 years.
Since the announcements by the Dutch and Swedish postcode lotteries, the South African government and its public entities, South African National Parks (SANParks) and Ezemvelo KZN
Wildlife (Ezemvelo), have been working closely with Peace Parks Foundation to plan detailed projects as part of the multifaceted Rhino Protection Programme.
In the last four months alone, since the funding has been received, Peace Parks Foundation has put the following projects in motion:
A collaboration with the Joaquim Chissano Foundation in Mozambique, which is working with the Mozambican government towards launching an anti-poaching and counter-trafficking programme, as well as the deployment of sniffer dogs on trafficking routes. A noteworthy element of this programme is the establishment of research and information gathering capabilities in Mozambique, to support the effectiveness of the programme and policy making.
An agreement with Mozambique’s Ministry of Tourism to further counter poaching activity by upgrading field communications technology used by rangers, as well as a shared radio communications systems across the international border. The agreement further includes providing training, incentives and equipment to rangers and improving rangers’ working conditions within Limpopo National Park, which abuts Kruger National Park. Together the two parks form a core component of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. An essential component of this project entails supporting the judicial system in Mozambique to effectively implement the new Conservation Areas Act that will bring about much stiffer penalties for anyone involved in illicit wildlife product trafficking.
In KwaZulu-Natal, in partnership with Ezemvelo, drones (unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV’s) have been deployed on a trial basis to test the capability of an assortment of UAV technologies as instruments to support Ezemvelo’s conservation law enforcement and anti-poaching operations in the varying environmental and operational conditions. The use of UAV’s is specifically intended to provide law enforcement officers with aerial support at night and thus reduce the risk faced by ground staff. So far the project has already had some positive impact and the presence of UAV’s in the reserves has been instrumental in disrupting illegal activities in general.
In association with Ezemvelo, tests are being run as part of research to find the most viable and effective means to devalue the horns of live rhino. The study is expected to be concluded by the end of 2014 and a programme will only be deployed once it is clear which method or a combination of methods will be the most effective devaluation strategy. The research and development of all the devaluation methods looks closely at animal welfare and animal health as part of the process.
The three main devaluation techniques being investigated and tested include:
The use of tracking technology through the placement of tracking devices on rhino. Ezemvelo has made significant progress with investigations into the use of tracking technology and has identified various rhino reserves that may benefit from the use of tracking technology to manage the welfare and security of vulnerable rhino populations. Due to the sensitive nature of the project no further details can be divulged;
The option of stimulating the controlled irradiation of rhino horns and thus create a detectable “radioactive” signature tag on rhino horn; and
The chemical alteration of rhino horn, which investigates means to alter the internal colour, taste or smell of rhino horn through the use of approved chemical substances that will remove its commercial value for consumption.
In the Kruger National Park, a variety of projects have been developed together with SANParks and are being prepared for implementation. These range from surveillance technology, equipment and training, to the care of rhino orphans and supporting wildlife veterinary surgeons to treat injured and traumatised rhino.
Apart from extensive projects in the field, combatting international crime around the smuggling of rhino horn is essential. WWF Netherlands, as a co-recipient of the Dream Fund, is establishing an independent Wildlife Justice Commission that will collect evidence, prepare legal cases, and coordinate political lobbying and public pressure to stop wildlife crime. The design phase has already been completed.
Peace Parks Foundation is also working with local partners and with partners in Vietnam to educate consumers and reduce the demand in rhino horn.
Peace Parks Foundation will share regular updates on the progress of its Rhino Protection Programme on this page.